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Newsies, the Musical
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed and Choreographed by Chris Bailey
The Muny
August 7, 2017

Cast of Newsies
Photo: The Muny

Thinking of shows that seem like they are made for the Muny, I think Newsies would be a prime example. The big, energetic Disney musical is ideally suited for a large outdoor stage like the Muny’s, and there’s a lot of room for the youth ensembles as well. As the closing show for the Muny’s 99th season, Newsies proves to be an excellent fit for the venue, as well as a rousing, well-cast and immensely entertaining production.

The show, based on the Disney film, tells a fictionalized version of a true story–a strike by newsboys in New York City in 1899. Here, the focus is on a group of “newsies” who deliver papers for the New York World newspaper, led by Jack Kelly (Jay Armstrong Johnson), a teenage orphan with artistic talents and dreams of moving west. When World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Davis Gaines) decides to raise the prices that the newsies pay for the papers they sell, Jack finds himself the leader of an impromptu union, along with his friend Crutchie (Daniel Quadrino), his new friends Davey (Spencer Davis Milford) and Davey’s little brother Les (Gabriel Cytron), and the rest of the neighborhood’s newsies, with hopes of rallying support from those from other papers and throughout the city. The movement is covered by ambitious reporter Katherine Plumber (Tessa Grady), who harbors a secret and finds herself attracted to Jack. As the movement grows, Pulitzer, the show’s obvious villain, grows agitated, and the newsies enlist the help of local entertainer Medda Larkin (Ta’rea Campbell), for whom Jack occasionally works painting backdrops for her theatre. The newsies’ strike becomes front page news, but Pulitzer’s efforts to stop it threaten to run Jack out of town and make conditions even worse for the newsies.

I’ve seen this show before, twice, on tour, first in Chicago and then here in St. Louis. I enjoyed both of those productions, but I think this production works even better not only because of its excellent cast, but because of the unique staging opportunities the Muny affords. The Muny Kids and Teens, for instance, are ideally suited for a show like this, to fill out the cast in a way that doesn’t seem manufactured or forced in the least. The direction and choreography by Chris Bailey is in a similar vein to the touring show, but the big Muny stage lends a great advantage for this show full of energetic leaping, spinning, and tapping.  Michael Schweikardt’s set also works well, with movable set pieces in the steel-beam platform style of the tour, but allowing for more flexibility of movement for the production and its large cast. There’s also excellent lighting by John Lasiter, striking video design by Nathan W. Scheuer, and colorful period costumes by Leon Dobkowski to help complete the overall look and atmosphere of the production.

The cast here is simply superb.  Johnson, with his strong voice and amiable stage presence, makes an ideal Jack Kelly. His scenes with his fellow newsies and with Grady’s terrific, spunky Katherine are highlights of this production. There’s also great work from Milford as Davey, young Cytron as Les, Campbell as Medda, and all of the newsies as well. I’ve always thought Pulitzer has been written as something of a cartoon villain in this show, but Gaines does an excellent job with the role as it’s presented. There’s a first-rate ensemble as well, including the Muny’s Youth Ensemble, helping to populate the Muny stage and contribute the energetic, tuneful production numbers.

Newsies is a fun show, with a big, enthusiastic cast. And at the Muny, it’s bigger, bolder, and better than ever. It’s been a great season at the Muny, and this show closes it out with style.

Cast of Newsies
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Newsies in Forest Park until August 13, 2017.

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Newsies
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Choreographed by Christopher Gatelli
The Fox Theatre
January 19, 2016

Joey Barreiro (center) and Cast Photo by Deen van Meer Newsies North American Tour

Joey Barreiro (center) and Cast
Photo by Deen van Meer
Newsies North American Tour

Newsies is a big, bold, energetic musical based on a cult-classic Disney movie of the same name. It’s on the second leg of its North American tour now, and it’s finally making a stop in St. Louis.  I saw the tour in Chicago in late 2014 and enjoyed it. This year, the cast is mostly new but it’s the same entertaining show.

Newsies is Disney’s retelling of the 1899 newsboys’ strike in New York, given the family-show treatment and lots of energy and optimism. It follows a group of “Newsies” led by the enterprising orphan Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), along with his friends Crutchie (Zachary Sayle) and “new kids”, brothers Davey (Stephen Michael Langton)–who becomes essentially Jack’s deputy–and feisty 10-year-old Les (John Michael Pitera, alternating with Ethan Steiner). Upset when New York World newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) raises the prices that the newsies have to pay for their papers, Jack gathers his buddies to launch a strike against the paper, and eventually other New York papers as well. Into the midst of this situation comes Katherine (Morgan Keene), a young woman reporter who writes about the strike and is attracted to Jack, who likes her back even though there’s one important fact about her that he doesn’t know.

This is a fun show, plain and simple. It’s not particularly deep or reflective, but there’s some good music and some especially extraordinary dancing, choreographed by Christopher Gatelli. It’s the kind of high energy, athletic, jumping and tapping and leaping and cartwheeling kind of dancing that gives this show its real spark. In fact, I would say that the real stars of this edition of the tour are the newsies themselves. With their considerable dance skills, charm, and ensemble chemistry, these guys carry the show in enemble numbers like “Carrying the Banner”, “Seize the Day”, and “King of New York”. The rest of the cast is fine, with the standouts being Sayle as the amiable Crutchie, Langton as the earnest Davey, and Pitera as his spunky little brother Les. Aisha De Haas is also excellent as the newsies’ main adult ally, singer Medda Larkin. Blanchard, who along with Sayle has been with the tour from the beginning, is good in this portrayal of Pulitzer as somewhat of a cartoonish villain. Barreiro is fine as Jack, displaying a lot of energy, although he’s not quite convincing as a teenager, and his chemistry with Keene’s more lackluster Katherine is not particularly convincing. Still, this is a show that’s sure to entertain especially because of that top-notch ensemble.

The set, designed by Tobin Ernst, is still spectacular, with its movable beams and grids, and wonderful use of projections, originally designed by Sven Ortel and adapted by Daniel Brodie. The costumes, by Jess Goldstein, are colorful and period appropriate, and they suit the characters well. For once, the sound, designed by Ken Travis–works well at the Fox, too. I’ve noticed sound problems in several touring shows that have played here, but Newsies does well, and every word of dialogue and the lyrics of every song are clearly audible. The show presents something of a stylized version of late 19th-Century New York, in keeping with the upbeat, more family-focused theme, but it’s a well-realized vision that contributes to the vibrancy of the production.

Newsies at the Fox might not be quite as stellar as it was in Chicago, but it’s still lots of fun. Ultimately, a show like this is about telling its story and doing so in an entertaining fashion. Newsies does that, with a delightful ensemble and a memorable score. I’m glad St. Louis audiences now have the chance to see it.

Cast of Newsies Photo by Deen Van Meer Newsies North American Tour

Cast of Newsies
Photo by Deen Van Meer
Newsies North American Tour

The North American tour of Newsies runs at the Fox Theatre until January 31, 2016.

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Newsies
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Choreographed by Christopher Gatelli
Oriental Theatre, Chicago
December 12, 2014

Stephanie Styles, Dan DeLuca Photo by Deen Van Meer Newsies the Musical

Stephanie Styles, Dan DeLuca
Photo by Deen Van Meer
Newsies the Musical

Over the weekend, I took a road trip to Chicago to see the US National Tour of Disney’s Newsies. Based on the film of the same name that flopped at the box office but then developed a sizable cult following,  the stage show ran for two years on Broadway and has now embarked on an ambitious tour that is unfortunately not scheduled to play in St. Louis in the near future. The good news is that it’s going to be running in Chicago for almost a month, so there’s plenty of time for St. Louisans to make the journey to see this upbeat, wonderfully cast and impressively produced show.

I approached this production as something of a Newsies newbie. I’ve never seen the film and had only heard a few songs and seen a few performance clips from the stage show.  I knew the basic plot, but that’s about all, although I’ve found that this tour is an excellent introduction to the show. The story, loosely based on an actual event, follows a group of newsboys working for the New York World newspaper in 1899.  Most of the boys are orphans, like the charismatic, artistically talented Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca), his friend Crutchie (Zachary Sayle) and others. Even those who aren’t orphans are poor, relying on their income from selling papers to support themselves and their families, like rookie “newsie” Davey (Jacob Kemp) and his younger brother, Les (Vincent Crocilla alternating with Anthony Rosenthal). When the paper’s owner, Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) raises the price of the papers, it affects the newsies because they have to pay for the papers they sell, and having to pay more up front means they will earn less. With Jack as the leader and Davey as the “brains”, the newsies form a union and begin a strike, but not without major complications and clashes with the authorites.  Meanwhile, a young reporter, Katherine (Stephanie Styles), who seeks to advance her career and help the newsies by writing about their cause, finds herself attracted to Jack, although a secret she’s keeping from him threatens their burgeoning relationship.

This is a very Disney spin on the story, with the emphasis on the energy and drive of the youthful characters, who are much more well-rounded than most of the adults, with the exception of burlesque entertainer Medda Larkin (Angela Grovey), for whom Jack paints backdrops, and who allows the newsies to use her theatre for rallies. Pulitzer is something of a mustache-twirling villain for most of the show, although that’s a minor quibble considering the real focus here is on the teenagers and their quest for better working conditions not just for themselves, but for other young workers throughout the city.  There are a few most-likely deliberate echoes in the staging of another show that features a group of idealistic young men rebelling against authority, Les Miserables, only this one is a lot more upbeat.  Even though this is a show for all ages, its primary audience seems to be teenagers, who are likely to be inspired by the determination and drive of this group of likable tough guys trying to make a difference, discovering their own strengths and talents in the process.

The producers have assembled a top-notch cast for this tour, led by the dynamic DeLuca, who will best be remembered by St. Louis audiences as Lucas in The Addams Family at the Muny in July.  DeLuca brings considerable charm, strong dance skills and a powerful singing voice to the role of the sensitive but guarded young Jack. He’s a more than capable leader for this group of loveable misfits, bringing emotion to numbers like “Santa Fe” and gutsy zeal to energetic group numbers like “Seize the Day” and “Once and For All”.  His scenes with the equally charming Sayle as Crutchie and Kemp as Davey are strong points of this production, and he displays great chemistry with Styles as the plucky Katherine.  Styles and Kemp, for their parts, are also standout performers, with Styles bringing a great blend of sympathy and excellent comic timing to her solo number “Watch What Happens”, and Kemp showing a lot of heart as the initially mild-mannered and somewhat nervous Davey, who gains confidence as the story develops.  There are also memorable performances from Grovey as Medda, whose big voice gets a great showcase on “That’s Rich”, and Crocilla as the enthusiastic youngest newsie, Les.  Blanchard also turns in a fine performance as the self-centered, villainous Pulitzer. As for the rest of the newsies, there are too many to mention them all by name, although they form a cohesive and eminently likable ensemble with a great deal of heart, strong voices and athletic dancing on songs like “Carrying the Banner”, “Seize the Day” and the showstopping tap-dance number “King of New York”.  This is an ensemble filled with youth and boundless, infectious energy, making for a very fun show.

Visually, this show is simply a wonder, with some of the most impressive sets I’ve seen, especially for a touring production. Designed by Tobin Ernst, the set is constructed of several multi-level units that fit together in various ways as the plot demands. Surrounded by ladders and metal piping, these units effectively evoke the network of fire escapes that are such a ubiquitous feature of the New York City landscape. The units can also be arranged together in a kind of grid, emphasizing the athleticism of the staging as the cast climbs up and down all those stairs with seemingly endless verve.  The use of projections, originally designed by Sven Ortel and adapted for the tour by Daniel Brodie, is particularly ingenious as Jack draws and we see what he’s drawing, or Katherine types and we see the result immediately over her head.  The overall color scheme in blues, grays and browns and reds is reflected in the set and in Jess Goldstein’s period-specific costumes and Jeff Croiter’s striking lighting design.  From these top-notch technical elements to Christopher Gattelli’s dizzyingly dynamic choreography with all its jumping, leaping, kicking and spinning, this show is a treat for the eyes and ears.

Disney’s Newsies on tour is a memorable high-quality show that is well worth a trip to Chicago to see.  It’s a shame it’s not coming to St. Louis anytime soon, but if you’re planning a holiday trip to the Windy City, why not “seize the day” and see this show? You don’t have to just “read all about it” when you can see it. Chicago is only a few hours away, and this show is well worth the trip.

Cast of Newsies Photo by Deen Van Meer Newsies the Musical

Cast of Newsies
Photo by Deen Van Meer
Newsies the Musical

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